Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Natural and Unnatural

I posted a question on Yahoo answers recently asking how vegans felt about breast feeding. You see, vegans differ from vegetarians in that while neither will eat meat, vegetarians are at least willing to eat animal products such as eggs, milk, and cheese. Vegans won't even eat animal products. So I was curious to know how they felt about breast feeding since that involves consuming an animal product.

The best answer I got was essentially this:

1. Vegans are against exploitation.
2. Breast feeding is not exploitation, but eating non-human animal products is.
3. Therefore vegans are okay with breast feeding, but they are against eating non-human animal products.

That seemed consistent to me.

But there was another argument brought up that I wasn't so sure about. A few people pointed out that breast feeding is natural, but eating the products of other animals is not. It was as if to say that as long as something is natural, it is okay, and if it is unnatural, then it is not okay.

I almost posted another question about that. I was curious to know how vegans felt about homosexuality. Arguably, it's unnatural since male parts and female parts are complimentary, but same sex parts aren't. To be consistent, shouldn't vegans also oppose homosexuality for the same reason? But most vegans I've met tend to be liberal, and most liberals tend to be okay with homosexuality.

Of course a lot of people will say that homosexuality is natural just because other animals also engage in homosexual behavior. But if a vegan makes that argument, they will undermine their argument for being vegan. After all, coyotes eat chicken eggs. In fact, LOTS of other animals eat eggs that don't belong to them. Does that make eating eggs natural and therefore okay? And I've also seen interspecies breast feeding, although that usually happens in captivity more than in the wild, so I guess they could say it's still unnatural.

I'm not convinced that natural = okay or that unnatural = bad. I can think of counter-examples of both. But what do you think? Do you think if something is natural that it's okay, and if it's unnatural it's not okay? And how do you distinguish between what is natural and what isn't? Are non-human animals even capable of doing something that isn't natural? If not, then how are we? If we are capable of doing what is natural and also what is unnatural, how do you tell the difference? What makes something natural or unnatural?

If you're a Calvinist, wouldn't you have to admit that the natural state of man is that he is a sinner? Isn't sin natural? If sin is natural, then how can you equate the natural with the morally permissible and the unnatural with being morally wrong?


Kyle Hendricks said...

Let's see what an amateur like me who hasn't started his philosophy major yet can think of at the top of his head.... Since you're a pro please feel free to correct me on things I may get wrong.

If we're simply talking about nature here without anything transcendent, then I'd have a hard time saying anything is wrong or right just based on that. Greg Koukl on STR has made the point that saying homosexuality is ok because it's natural commits the naturalistic fallacy because you can't get an ought from an is. But it seems to me that if this is the case, I can't argue that it's wrong just using nature either. I also can't seem to argue that heterosexual sex is right because it's natural. I suppose we can talk of what is most beneficial to humans and animals (assuming life, comfort, procreation, and pleasure are more beneficial than nonexistence, pain, etc.), but I'm not so sure what is "beneficial" is always completely parallel with what's "right." Assuming it is, it would seem homosexuality is less beneficial in this way since it doesn't lead to children, and therefore less "right" then heterosexuality. One might then bring up the issues of overpopulation or couples who struggle with infertility though. I guess my basic point is that I can't think of a way to distinguish "right" from "wrong" using nature alone. I can only think of what leads to increased perpetuation and pleasure for living things and what precludes it.

You make a good point with your last question about Calvinism. I'll need more time to think about that.

ErictheViking said...

Thats the whole problem with alot of "liberal" issues. First on the homosexual issue they(being pro-gay folks) say homosexuals were born that way hence their actions must be not just tolerated but celebrated. Take this to its logical conclusion and you have to except pedophiles because a great many have only been attracted to children. Just because one has a natural born desire does not make it O.K. As far as the vegan issue I have no problem with somebody being a vegan for health issues, what I have issue is with them chastising me for eating animals but fail to launch a picket line around a den of lions on the serengeti. After all those lions have rights(so they say) and with rights come responsibilities(such as dont eat those that you equate as an equal). Any one of them would be eaten at the least provocation from same den of lions. Thank Sam for your post always makes me think.

The Blog of John said...

Regarding animals doing unnatural things: My children have been watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on our Tivo. At the end of the show, Snoopy and Woodstock share a traditional Thanksgiving meal, including a roast turkey. I find it very disturbing to see Woodstock eating a turkey.

As far as your comment about Calvinism and asking if sin is natural, I think it depends on how you define natural. In one sense, the Bible affirms natural things as being positive. Calvin said, "The depravity and malice both of man and of the devil, or the sins that arise therefrom, do not spring from nature, but rather from the corruption of nature." I think it is this sense of nature that Paul refers to in Romans 1 when he condemns homosexuality as being unnatural. it goes against God's created order.

Another Biblical use of the word natural occurs in I Corinthians 2:14 when Paul says, "the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him." In this case, the opposite of natural is spiritual.

(I'm no Greek expert, but a quick search of an online Greek New Testament showed that the Greek word for natural in Romans 1 is phusikos and the word for natural in I Cor is psuchikos.)

Dogbyte said...

"1. Vegans are against exploitation.
2. Breast feeding is not exploitation, but eating non-human animal products is.
3. Therefore vegans are okay with breast feeding, but they are against eating non-human animal products."

i would think that the word "exploitation" would need expanded upon before i tried to tackle this argument. i understand that maybe this argument was your creation, based on discussions with Vegans, ect. So maybe these arent their own words, or if they are, they might choose different ones if they thought it may be part of a premise. because i think they would have trouble with defining what exactly exploitation was to where it could be defended the way they wanted.

to me, i always thought that Vegans are in a sinful world, trying to live in one without sin. whether they acknowledge this or not is moot.

before the fall, Genesis describes a world without death and disease, and where all God's creation were vegetarian. This is the world that Vegans basically represent, at least in my opinion, except the part where Sin is still here, and the rest of creation does not follow suit.

a Christian worldview sees Sin as a curse, that brought death into the world, along with degradation, degeneration, and a basic diminishing of life on earth.

i have no problems with someone choosing this way of life out of health concerns, but i do have a problem with the choice based on morality. most Vegans i would wager, do not believe in a moral standard, or if they do, you would soon find out that they cannot point as to WHY they believe in a moral standard, as most of them would be atheists. which ends up being a situation where they paint themselves into a corner where only the material world can exist. no room for morals in that corner. no room for morals in the animal world either, nor charity. just survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, and death.

i have a hard time believing that anyone could really be so trenched in the Vegan life, that they would sacrifice their own life for the life of an animal, or animal substance, that could potentially save their life from starvation, if the situation presented itself. one can only assume this situation is so allusive, that its yet to darken the doorstep of any true Vegans, cause it would surely make the headlines. OR, maybe the end result would be a Vegan looking out for numero uno, and they would partake in the exploit, survival right?

im just not sure that Vegans would be what they are, if the numerous options that surround us today as a society, didnt exist. im sure somewhere there are indigenous people that are vegetarians, who knows, but the vast majority, and the rest of the world are not. maybe because of choice, but mostly because there is no OTHER choice, other than death.


Payton said...

I agree with you, Sam. It's not really possible to derive an ought from an is, and therefore, the natural or unnatural-ness of homosexuality is a moot point.

Now, this also means that the question of whether homosexuality is an inborn characteristic is also a moot point, ethically speaking. However, I think you can make certain relative inferences from it. For example, you can say that homosexuality has significant characteristics X, Y, and Z, which are shared by, say, left-handedness. In that way, depending on how many meaningful characteristics they have in common, you might be able to claim that homosexuality is as good or evil as left-handedness. Note that here we're not making an ethical claim, or deriving an ought from an is, because we haven't assumed that left-handedness is good or bad, or that homosexuality is good or bad, but merely that whatever they are, they could be equal. This is a relative claim.

Then, of course, it's up to the audience to decide whether or not homosexuality is okay, simply on the basis of whether they think parallel things like left-handedness (I use it as an example) are okay.

Also, I don't really think you could even argue that homosexual sex is unnatural. Obviously, male genitals and female genitals fit together (not always well!) and fulfill a biological process (reproduction) in this way, and therefore you could say heterosexual sex is "natural". However, it's not exactly fair to homosexuality to claim that gay sex is unnatural because penises don't fit together in the same way. We all know that's not what goes on in gay sex.

I think the word "natural" is really only useful in contrast to "supernatural". It's meaningless if you mean it in contrast to "abnormal". Obviously, under that definition, potted plants are unnatural, since they're supposed to be in the ground. Yet everyone always rails against "unnatural" sexual matters, and never against "unnatural" agriculture.

Sam Harper said...

Payton, you make some good points.